Monday, April 27, 2009

Sticks and Stones

A long time ago in a different world……… The Burmese fighter was in the middle of melee, friend and foe mixing it shoulder to shoulder when his sword was knocked loose from his hand as the group surged. No time to look down for his sword, his hand slipped inside his sleeve and he grasped as short stick, extracted it and continued to fight.

Not so long ago (about 1992) in New Hampshire……… Mike Cassidy walked out into the competition ring in weapons competition…his hands empty. A murmur went through the crowd… ‘he’s not carrying a weapon’. He bowed to the judges, stepped back and as his form started he pulled a short stick from his sleeve. Another of my students, Young Lee, found the same reaction when he performed the form in 2006.

The purpose of the form is not for competition, though competition has its uses in the full cycle of training.

Almost from it’s origins in the states there was a strong link between Isshinryu and Bando, no doubt because a number of Isshinryu karate-ka shifted into Bando. When the American Bando Association held their summer camps Isshinryu karate-ka were invited and paid attention to what was shared. One of my seniors Reese Rigby picked up the Bando Staff form (The Horseman’s Footsoldiers Form) and the Bando Stick form (the Hidden Stick).

In 1982 I had the chance to attend a ABA summer camp, and as I was studying the Bando Staff form, from my instructors, and working on part of the Stick Form, I considered it a chance to learn more. One of the opening training sessions had Dr. Gyi having all us work on stick impact training. Two would hold a large limb between themselves and the rest were striking that limb as hard as we could. The point was made to deliver impact you had to practice impact, and in turn the impact training was strengthening the inside of the hand to form a stronger fist. (In turn the motion that the stick makes when held for the downward stroke, is the same motion that the Bando stylist uses for their vertical strikes.)
A synergy in training, similar in the training the use with their kukri knives too.

I am not a Bando stylist, but made a few friends that weekend discussing common training practices.

On Sunday morning I rose early to practice and one of the Bando instructors, remembering me from the night before stopped to watch me work on the portion of the stick form I knew. He asked what I was doing and when I explained, he told me the version he taught was somewhat different. As all of the Bando instructors were going into the woods for private Bando training he called two of his brown belts over and told them they had to teach me their form. For the next two hours they shared their stick practice, explained the use of each technique as they were taught.

As I left the four hour drive home was non-stop practice of that form in my mind, and the beginning of practice for the rest of my life.

The form uses butt strikes, blade and tip strikes, hides the stick behind the body for several attackers, contains disarming techniques, throwing techniques, striking techniques, breaking techniques and many other forms of nastiness.

Its use is not restricted to the stick, you can hold any object in your hands and use the same techniques, a book, a rock, a crumpled can, or you can use it with a piece of rope or chain held in both hands. Without something to use, it is an efficient method of empty hand defense too.

While sharing similarities with many other stick fighting systems, it is not geared to stick fighting, rather close range self defense.

It can be used with sticks of any length from pen to 3 foot lengths. I suspect it’s origins were about a 10” length, and while we use many different sizes at different times, the rattan length in the video is what we most commonly use for practice.

I don’t have any video showing our technique applications, but another system which studies stick is HawRangDo, and the following video shows similar stick applications to those found in our study. Sticks – Hwarang Do

A form shows a range of potential, but never shows all of the potential. The best overall study of stick’s underlying principles I’ve found in “The Filipino Martial Arts as taught by Dan Inosanto”, written by Dan Inosanto, published by Know Now Publishing Company in 1980. Unfortunately I doubt it is currently available, because most Martial Arts publications are shortly out of print.

In it Dan Inosanto does more than just show techniques, but demonstrates how the shortened arc, or body angling add ‘flavor’ to the technique. IMO this is something often missed in most weapons study, that just considers kata. Having read this prior to my stick studies enabled me from the beginning to see those options for future study.

As we move through time, the direct relevancy of kobudo with many of the traditional weapons is lost. Though effective you can hardly carry Bo, Sai, Kama and many other choices around in the world to have them on hand if……. On the other hand the study of stick offers many choices. A stick does not set off a metal detector. Any object you practice with can be used the same way, whether a pen or ruler you can carry, or your car keys or the empty coke can in your hand offers increased effectiveness in defensive effort.

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